Saturday, September 01, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History  September 2

Methodist Meeting Held on Sulfur Fork, September 1839

The earliest scene of Methodist activity in Texas was in northeastern Texas along the Red and Sulfur Rivers and their various tributaries.  Since those rivers are part of the Mississippi drainage system, Americans assumed that they were part of the Louisiana Purchase, and therefore American territory.   In spite of the huge raft of logs that impeded travel on the Red River, Americans pushed up those rivers into what is today Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.  Pecan Point on the Red River, became a nucleus of a rude settlement consisting of traders, hunters, and trappers.  The first family that can be identified to settle south of the Red River  is that of Claiborne Wright.   They arrived in Pecan Point in September 5, 1816.  Mrs. Wright (Clara) was Littleton Fowler’s aunt.  

Where American settlers went, Methodist circuit riders were soon to follow, and the earliest recorded Methodist preacher to the region was William Stevenson, P. E. of the Arkansas District of the Missouri Conference.   His home was in Mound Prairie, just west of Washington, Arkansas.  From that base, he preached in Pecan Point n 1815 and later made Wright’s home a preaching point. Stevenson and Wright had known each other in Tennessee.  

Although the Red and Sulfur drainages  were part of the Louisiana Purchase,  there had never been a survey to designate the US-Spanish border.  The Adams-Onis Treaty finally designated the border, but put most of the Sulfur and the southern tributaries of the Red into Spanish Texas.   In return, the U S received Florida from Spain.  It didn’t really matter for the folks on the ground since Spanish had long since given up trying to exercise sovereignty in the region and immediately after the Treaty was ratified, Mexico was successful in the their revolution against Spain.    
In 1824 the U. S. Army established a post in the region, Fort Towson and brought some order to the region, but that was difficult since what is today southeastern Oklahoma was designated at the location for the Choctaws who were being removed from the Southeastern U S along the Trail of Tears.  One of the jobs of the soldiers at Fort Towson was to remove the European-American settlers from the lands assigned to the Choctaws.  Naturally, many of them just moved south of the Red River into Texas. 

By 1835 there were enough Methodist preaching points to assign  a circuit rider to what is today Lamar, Red River, and Bowie Counties.  The preaching points were Pecan Point, DeKalb, Jonesboro,  along the Sulfur River, and the area where Clarksville was later founded.  The name of the circuit was Sulfur Fork.   John Carr was the preacher appointed to the circuit, but he was inexperienced and quit before the year was finished.  The Presiding Elder could not find a replacement at conference so the appointment is listed “to be supplied.”  The next preachers was E. B. Duncan and John Bunyan Denton, followed by Jacob Whitesides.

In September 1839 there was a camp meeting on the circuit that resulted in 30 conversions.   P. E. Gregory, William Craig, William Mulkey, and W. G. Duke  were the preachers. 

Yes, readers, William Mulkey was the father of Abe Mulkey,  (1850-1919), arguably the most important evangelist in Texas Methodist history, credited with 548 revivals, 16,444 sermons, and 54,084 conversions according to the New Handbook of Texas.  

William Duke is also an interesting figure.  He was one of the group of 8 Tennessee preachers who volunteered for Arkansas as a group.  They crossed the Mississippi at Memphis and found themselves in an extensive swamp.   They pooled their funds and bought a boat.  It took them three days to traverse the swamp. 


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